(Bear with me here – this one will eventually come back around to the Internet sales team.)
Today I feel compelled to deviate from my regular article topics covering Internet sales and digital marketing to alert you to an area of your dealership that might need as much attention as any other: Your service waiting area.
About as glamorous as managing the Internet sales process, paying close attention to your service waiting area seems to me like an easy way to drive new car sales and increased service revenue.
The question for dealers is this: Is your service waiting area more like a dentist office or is it a true customer retention tool?
As I sit in the poorly named “customer service lounge” at one of my local Spokane, Washington franchise dealers, I cannot help but notice the resemblance between this area and the waiting room at my sons’ orthodontist. Like the ortho’s office, I’m about to drop over $500 on a customer-pay repair order – unlike the ortho’s office, it is not a requirement that I return to this dealership for follow-up service. (Reading between the lines here: It is more important for my dealer to “wow” me than it is for my sons’ dentist.)
If what I am about to describe sounds like your dealership, you may find the help you need in your very own Internet sales team. In fact, nothing that I am about to propose cannot be solved with a little elbow grease (People) and some technology (Process). (Hint: If your Internet sales team is any good, they are your dealership’s experts at people and process.)
Today counts for two visits: My first and my last
Unfortunately for this Spokane dealership, today might be both my first and last visit, as their service waiting area is blowing every chance they have to retain my business. To be fair, let’s examine the similarities and differences between this dealership and the dentist, and let’s try to come up with some inexpensive ways for the dealer to make me a lifelong customer.
Just as in the orthodontist’s office, my dealership’s customer WiFi does not appear to be working. This is a problem for customers who choose to wait, but also want to remain productive. Luckily for me, I have a wireless card from my cell phone provider (that in all honesty provides a much slower Internet connection). Prior to using the wireless card, I did give the dealership a shot at fixing (i.e., turning on) their WiFi. Their response: “Oops, the WiFi doesn’t seem to be working today.” (Really? Huh, sounds a lot like what I said.)
Keeping the customer WiFi running (and running fast) clearly should be more of a priority for this dealer. Had they been able to fix the WiFi, you could argue that they were providing good customer service. Of course, good customer service is not about how you respond to complaints; good customer service is about eliminating complaints before they happen.
The cost to ensure the WiFi is always operating is probably nothing more than improving their team’s attention to detail by assigning someone to verify the connection every morning and evening. (Could they possibly assign their Internet team to “own” this task?)
Circa November 2005: Can anyone stop Duke?
With no WiFi, many customers likely turn to the dealer’s magazine rack to pass the time. Just as in the dentist’s office, this dealership displays magazines that are older than my car. While I do enjoy a little sports history and trivia, a five-year old Sports Illustrated detailing why the Duke Blue Devils are again the team to beat in college basketball might be a little outdated – even for a dentist.
This dealership employs a receptionist who sits very near the waiting area (which is in the middle of the showroom). Is it too much to ask that she keep the area stocked with current issues of popular magazines? I don’t want to get greedy, but could they also drop a couple of bucks a day on the local newspaper or USA Today and have a few copies ready for the early morning customers? Again, the dealership could use the Internet manager to order these items online. (My tongue is firmly in my cheek on this one.)
Even though there were more than a dozen seats in the waiting area, this dealership provides exactly one kind of coffee (regular), using exactly one pot at a time, and no doughnuts (which I likely would not have eaten anyway, though the other five people waiting with me did appear a little hungry).
At a time when many dealers are providing name brand coffee in a few flavors (including decaf) and hearty pastries and bagels from local bakeries, this “luxury” dealership has chosen to give their customers the choice of regular coffee or no coffee. (In defense of my sons’ orthodontist office, they provide both regular and decaf.)
I am about to pay this dealership more than $500 for less than two hours work. I know their labor rates and I have a very good sense of their markup on parts. These guys are making a killing with me, and they don’t see the need to provide more than one type of coffee? (To make matters worse, when the pot is empty we have to ask the receptionist to make a fresh one.)
In the dealership’s defense, everyone I encountered on this visit was extremely pleasant and helpful. Of course, this is also the treatment I receive at the ortho’s office; which makes me think some of this pleasantry could be related to the size of their respective ROs.
This dealership is nothing like a dentist
Just when I think this is really starting to feel like a trip to the dentist, a customer walks in and changes the dynamic completely. There is something about sitting in a service waiting area as someone walks in with a really big (and loud) dog that makes it seem a lot less like a dentist office.
While the presence of this dog makes a few of the other customers unhappy, I’m not sure I can pin this one completely on the dealership. (I mean, what are they supposed to do? Who shows up for a service appointment with a giant dog in tow?) The customer put the dealership in a no-win situation. They could have told her that no dogs are allowed in the showroom, which could have made her mad. Or, they could have allowed the dog to bound on in with the rest of us, making everyone else uncomfortable. They chose the latter. I’m pretty sure my sons’ orthodontist would have drawn the line with the dog.
What should my experience have been?
Clearly, this dealership’s service waiting area is an afterthought. Moreover, it is an expense center and not a profit center. The cost of the coffee, chairs, cable television and outdated magazines are merely a requirement.
While I’m sure most dealerships would prefer that customers dropped off their cars for repair instead of waiting, the fact is that six of us were waiting that morning and it’s up to the dealership to find ways to make more money from us. Here are a few random and not-so-random thoughts that might help you (and this dealer) drive more revenue and create more long-term customers:
- Sell me a car. I’ve encountered many successful dealerships that treat their service waiting area like a pool of potential sales ups. These dealerships have employed everything from “Value Your Trade” kiosks to having salesmen provide purchase options for customers facing large repair bills to tactics as simple as making sure there is plenty of new car literature throughout the waiting area. I’m in your dealership and you already know I drive your brand, now sell me my next car. (Hint: This is where a great Internet sales team can shine – put them in charge of this and stand back.)
- Sell me some accessories or apparel. This dealership had just a small trophy case with a couple of key chains and other random branded merchandise to offer. Nothing exciting and nothing with a fair price. (Did they intend to offer these items for sale or were they just showing off?) Show me you’re in the accessories and apparel business and get me excited with a sale price or two. The chances of me remaining loyal to your brand become greater when I begin wearing a logoed hat and jacket, don’t they? An idea is to put the receptionist on commission here and allow them to stock and price this as they see fit. Imagine giving them 50% of the net profits?
- Keep me occupied. I understand the dealership doesn’t want to encourage loitering, but as long as people are waiting up to four hours, give them something to do. I know of dealers who provide iPads and computer workstations to consumers to help them pass the time. I can certainly vouch for the fact that my three-hour wait was made much more pleasant by the fact that I had a laptop with a working Internet connection. Now, had the dealership provided the working Internet connection, I would have been even happier. So, get your Internet or IT team involved with this.
- Shower me with exceptional customer service. An American Express study this year showed that consumers are willing to pay an average of 9% more when a company provides excellent service. Additionally, when consumers see that you are good at customer service, they assume you are good at everything. Knowing this, does the thought of springing for a few more flavors of coffee, some pastries, fresh magazines and newspapers seem so frivolous? Sorry Mr. Service Manager, but you have to own this.
No one likes going to the dentist
The New York Times reported that only one in five car buyers are loyal to the brand they are driving. This is a sharp decline, they say, from the 1980s where nearly four in five remained loyal. This means that dealers need to do more to keep the customers they have. Retaining these customers means giving them a great ownership experience, especially including their experience when visiting you for service.
Wouldn’t it be something if consumers actually looked forward to visiting your service waiting area? (At the very least, wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t cringe when they thought of getting their oil changed with you?) If you could make it pleasurable to service with you, imagine what that could mean for your new car sales and service revenue.
It’s time to ask yourself: Are you running a dentist office, or is your service waiting area truly a customer retention tool?
Thank you for letting me digress a bit and good selling!